Dr. AIX's POSTS — 15 October 2015

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“A good recording will sound good regardless of a higher sample rate or bit depth”. This was posted in response to a short discussion over at AVS Forum in a thread that Scott Wilkinson started in support of the “Music and Audio” A User Guide To Better Sound”. Ethan Winer wrote the comment. Although I don’t believe I’ve met Ethan, I have his book, “The Audio Expert” and have read a number of his posts on various online sites. I think my thoughts on high-resolution audio align more closely with his than with other more subjective writers and reviewers. But we do have a difference of opinion on high-res music.

I was surprised at a number of the comments that preceded Ethan’s. The very first one was simply “LOL”. Apparently, this individual has already figured everything out and doesn’t feel the need to learn anything new about good quality audio or actually hear what it sounds like.

Another comment was more sympathetic, “I think this is great! Mark is one of the few guys that will out right say Hi-Res is not for you and/or your system so stop spending money. It should be mandatory for any one that is thinking of buying equipment or getting content to hear what Mark has to say.”

As the comments continued, the focus seemed to come back to the belief that CD spec audio is enough. Advocates argue that there is no sonic advantage to higher sample rates and longer word lengths. I would tend to agree for the vast majority of commercially released discs being released by labels…both the majors and independents. Honestly, CDs will more than capture the musical material produced by artists across a wide variety of genres. Ethan’s comment speaks to that…”a good recording will sound good” if played from a CD or a CD-spec file. But the essential question is whether a great recording will benefit from being recorded at 96 kHz/24-bits? I believe it will.

One of the AVS hard core commented:

“What do you mean by high-res audio? Higher sampling rate? Higher than 48Khz? If so, why are we still debating what Claude Shannon proved over 60 years ago? More than 44 or 48KHz is a waste of bits, its the ‘speaker cable’ marketing hype fiasco all over again. For mastering, yes ok, for consuming; pointless. It’s not an opinion, its fact, just as much as Newton’s Laws or Einstein’s Relativity.

If you’re talking about greater bit-depth then fair enough, I’m all for it, especially for orchestral recordings or anything with lots of dynamic range (which isn’t much these days sadly)”.

The answer to the question above came from an electrical engineer several posts later, “From an engineering standpoint there are advantages to higher sampling rates and resolution that can be audible. Higher clock rate spreads the quantization noise over a greater bandwidth, then you can filter out the ultrasonic and obtain better audio-band SNR. It also means the antialias filter on an ADC’s input need not be so steep, though oversampling converters already have that advantage. Greater resolution/dynamic range is probably more important in the studio when you are capturing and mixing a host of sources with widely varying dynamic range”.

My bottom line is that current audio and digital equipment provides us with plenty of bits to waste…if we want to. I say waste them and move up to 96 kHz/24-bits on both the production and reproduction sides of the equation. Going any further than that is overkill as I’ve previously stated. Audio studios are equipped to handle high-res audio production and consumers have formats that can play them back…so why not. It doesn’t hurt anything. And it might…just might…make a difference.

I’m not quite so dogmatic about CDs being the end all format. Let’s take the next step and give Shannon/Nyquist a little breathing room.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. You rarely if at all discuss 44.1 16 bit CD recordings using HDCD encoding. I’ve heard many terrific recordings made by Reference Recordings using that format in conjunction with an HDCD capable player. What are your thoughts?

    • Hank, I have written several articles about HDCD (More Then 16-bit CDs). Keith Johnson’s recordings using the technology are excellent. But HDCD is not necessary in a 24-bit PCM world.

  2. “I’m not quite so dogmatic about CDs being the end all format. Let’s take the next step and give Shannon/Nyquist a little breathing room.”

    I got to back you up on that Mark. Since in today’s world the cost for the equipment and bandwidth are no more than more restricted paths, why not.

  3. Only reason why digital audio sounds unnatural is the finite number of samples of which any recording consists. This issue can to some degree be fixed prior to playback by means of Upsampling. There is practically not any other issue to plague the sound quality.

    • But Jay, digital audio doesn’t sound unnatural.

  4. As a career high-er end audio vendor, I would add just two thoughts: One, it is true that an excellent recording will cut through various formats like a knife through butter and show itself to be the controlling factor in playback quality virtually no matter what.
    As for the general audibility and desirability of genuine hi-res material, it seems obvious to me that the degree of significance and improved musical experience would depend on the quality and accuracy of a given system. Bluetooth speakers etc., of course not, clean 16/44 or in many cases 320kbps takes care of business. But a system with wide bandwidth, wide dynamic range, and a high degree of resolution however, will have no trouble clearly revealing the rewards of Hi-Res, or as I prefer to put it ,” first gen sound”.
    The need to load and work with additional programs,(J River etc.,) and the still awkward, immature and ever -changing computer audio landscape is what prevents folks from exploring the best available sound IMHO.

    The “vinyl” resurgence has two often un-revealed components: One , it is the public’s unconscious reaction to the tiring, ‘ear Brillo’ effect of low rate MP-3s ; the distortions of analog can and are psycho-acoustically pushed aside while listening, but this is not possible with low rate files since the distortions are welded in. Two, both the manual simplicity and physical palpability of records take people into a comfort zone that is not ‘glitchy,’ has no need to ‘re-load program’ or an app that crashes. Quite a few folks I’ve spoken with in the shop have put this aspect clearly on the table. Almost everyone has to use a computer at work. No wonder they want something very different when it comes to enjoying music. Personally, I am format agnostic. If hamsters running the wheel made the best sound, I’d be a ‘hamster guy.’

    • Thanks Craig…I cant understand the vinyl LP thing. I noticed this morning the DG is reissuing some older recordings in the format…it makes no sense.

  5. This is the problem:
    We have as all the hardware needed for “hi-res” playback. But where is the content?
    This is the question for both home theater and the audio world.

    Home theater: We got AVR’s \ Processors \ TV’s \ Projectors with DTS:X, Atmos, Auro3d, can do 4:4:4 color space, 4K 60 fps video, blah, blah, blah… Where is the content????

    Audio: We have speakers (affordable and expensive), amps, dacs, etc, etc which an playback real ‘hi- res’ audio but where is the content??

    The very, very small group of companies which actually do ‘hi-res’ music/audio ARE NOT PRODUCING ENOUGH CONTENT.

    This brings me to AIX records… For about a year now, I’ve been reading these blogs posts, watching Home Theater geeks show, youtube, etc – basically anything Mark Waldrep is on I’ll watch. I hear about book projects, kickstarters, discussions about all kinda stuff. But the thing I’m not hearing from Mark / Aix records is about NEW ALBUMS. I don’t care about sampler discs. I want more albums

    Where is my follow up albums to Zephyr – Voices Unbound, Ernest Ranglin and the like?
    This is the problem with “hi-res” audio.. We don’t have enough content to make it relevant. I would rather see Mark put his time and energy into making albums than doing kick starters and writing books.

    • Kevon, here’s the hard truth…it’s too expensive to make new recordings. I would to have the opportunity to produce new projects like Zephyr: Voices Unbound or Ernest Ranglin, but the average cost of a single project is over $25,000! Unlike other high end companies, I don’t get government sponsorship and I don’t sell high-end cables or other accessories to pay for expensive sessions. I was asked whether using KS to produce a new album was possible…and I’m thinking yes, I could try that. Stay tuned.

  6. I usually find audiophiles that are in love with just one format, often vinyl, have systems optimized for that format. If you have a really fine turntable, arm, cartridge, and phono preamp, but use an outdated CD player, vinyl will sound better. Or, turn it around, a fully optimized digital system, and a 30 year old mid-fi turntable, vinyl will suck.

    Those of us that pay attention to the details of each format, will find it is the media that then matters. I’d rather listen to a early pressing that was recorded for vinyl release, than a CD put out using a third generation master, that was the only copy they could find. When CDs were first becoming the “perfect sound forever” some record companies were putting out CDs with little concern for quality.

    Over the years I have continued to upgrade my system, in a way that gets the most out of each format, cost being the limiting factor.

    When it comes to new recordings, I almost always buy digital. The only reason to consider the vinyl release would be if the recording was done on an analog tape machine. If it starts as digital, then I see no reason to buy it in vinyl.

  7. Hi Mark,

    I read something different in that sentence (“A good recording will sound good regardless of a higher sample rate or bit depth”), and it’s the fact that recording techniques and presentation makes an audible and immediate difference we can all relate to. I find binaural recordings, for example, more engaging and ejoyable than most of the HRA recordings that I have. But no binaural recording can be HRA, as the tiny mics inserted into the ear canals of the head and torso simulators used for binaural recordings don’t acheive HRA specs, and some are at the limit of CD specs.

    I have yet to hear any HRA recording that will convince me on the basis of sample rate and bit depth alone, but I find there to be a night and day difference between the best classical music recordings and the average pop and rock recordings. A difference that is as clear and enjoyable as the difference between Bluray and DVD. A difference I wont have to take a course in critical listening to be able to recognize.

    Those recordings, usually done with as few as 1 or two microphones, like the soundfield, AB stereo, or binaural recordings made by labels like Chesky, MA recordings, Glossa, Harmonia Mundi, 2L (stereo versions), CPO, Aeolus, Carpe Diem, etc., captivate me more and sound more natural and convincing to me than any legit and certified HRA I have heard so far, and based on the presumed merits of sample rate and bit depth alone.

    Cheers!

    • Thanks Camilo…I used to do a lot of work in binaural. However, I find minimal miked recordings to be too distant and hollow sounding for my taste. Forget about formats and specifications and listen to what works for you.

  8. My problems with Redbook CD are multifold. I’ve believe I’ve explained this before Mark, but I just don’t get the same level of instrumental textures as I do with analog. It’s those instrumental textures that make instruments sound like themselves. Sound realistic. These are missing overtones. The decay of the notes on CD sounds truncated, sometimes oddly so. Often the attack of the note is so exaggerated and quick, the lack of sustain increases the apparent pace of the music. I don’t have as much problem with low level detail as much as the inner detail of the music. The multitude of things happening within the piece or sections within the piece get lost at higher volumes or when many instruments play at once. These things get smeared. The silence between the notes still sounds unrealistic, although some people have grown use to this, I haven’t. With digital the hall space often sounds dry. High notes can often sound overly clean or brittle. There are other problems, but these are a few. These issues also apply to Hi-Res PCM to a lesser extent.

    • You’re hearing things differently than most people and certainly myself. When I play a CD spec version of one of my recordings, it is very, very hard to tell them apart. There are more overtones and they much more accurate on a CD than analog tape or vinyl. But you hear what you hear…and there’s not arguing that. Moving to Hi-Res leaves analog formats in the dust…I assume you’ve downloaded the track from the FTP site. If you system is up to it, you should be hearing things that most recordings lack.

      • I’ve always felt that digital sounds it’s best in a controlled environment. I’ve heard some excellent projects, but they’ve typically emanated from facilities that have very tight infrastructures. Everything is controlled… All the jitter, clocking, sampling rates are on point.

        As an audio engineer by profession I have worked with all different standard bit depths and sample rates on different converters and different speakers/amps/headphones. On each system I can hear a difference in sample rate and bit depth on the exact same source material day in, day out. I find that 24/192 actually does sound the best in terms of 3d sound (this has to do with anti-aliasing filter slopes, not more data points or higher frequencies), although it might be a little sloppier in some respects to lower sample rates.

        I don’t think you could find a single engineer who thinks that the difference between 16 and 24 bit is inaudible. Studios mix at 24 bit, not because they don’t want to lose data, but detail and also headroom/dynamic range. Detail that is pretty easy to notice. Audio is mixed down to 16 bit because that is basically the only format that is available to most people, not because in 1984 digital audio was perfected. The way music sounds when it is mixed in the studio is much more dynamic, open and detailed than the final 16 bit consumer product. Overall I do feel that Hi-Res in some respects does leave analog “in the dust” sure, but there is a realism that Analog portrays that no digital medium can touch.

        • I certainly won’t argue with what you’ve experienced in your career. I hear thing differently. The realism you believe analog portrays isn’t there for me. It’s a great sound…all warm and euphonious…but not real like digital.

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